News: Medical unit looks to service member for donations
Story by Senior Airman David Carbajal
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - When coalition forces are wounded on the battlefield, sometimes it takes more than a skillful medical team to save their lives. It takes a key component of blood—platelets.
“Platelets form the basis of a blood clot,” said Maj. Raynae Leslie, apheresis element chief. “It’s very important to have them in theater for the types of injuries that we’re seeing here.”
A specialized team of Airmen working in the apheresis element collect platelets donated at Kandahar Airfield’s Role 3. The platelets are used to support trauma victims here and at six forward-operating bases throughout Regional Command South.
Apheresis is defined as the withdrawal of blood from a donor's body, removal of one or more blood components, and the remaining blood components returned back into the donor.
The apheresis element encourages platelet donations because platelets have multiple benefits, said Leslie.
One benefit is donors can donate once every four to five days.
“If a donor gives whole blood, they have to wait eight weeks before they can donate again,” said Tech. Sgt. Jody Haslip, apheresis element non-commissioned officer in charge. “With platelets, donors can donate once per week.”
Platelets also can be much more easily transported than whole blood and plasma, said Haslip. The platelets are transported via aircraft to the forward operating bases to ensure their Role 3 hospitals have an active supply.
“As long as the platelets are agitated, they can be stored at room temperature for seven days before they have to be discarded,” said Haslip, who is deployed from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., and is a Rapid City, S.D., native.
The team also promotes donating because it is safer than whole blood.
“Our volunteers are all prescreened before they donate and are screened again each time they donate to ensure the product is safe for transfusion,” said Leslie, who is deployed from Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., and is a Terre Haute, Ind., native.
“With whole blood, a victim could be receiving blood from several different people that has not been prescreened, which increases the chance of them being transfused an unsafe product,” said Leslie.
Platelets have other benefits for medical providers--they can be given to any trauma victim, regardless to their blood type. The apheresis chief sees this as a benefit to having platelets available at the regional Role 3 hospitals.
“Trauma patients requiring massive blood transfusions can receive any platelet unit regardless of blood type,” said Leslie.
Donating platelets does have a drawback though.
“It is a time-consuming process,” said Haslip. “The actual platelet donation can take anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours.”
“We’re fortunate to have loyal donors, who are willing to sacrifice that time,” Haslip added.
One of those loyal donors works at Role 3.
“I do it because I know it’s helping somebody,” said U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Monica Florence, hospital corpsman.
Florence has donated platelets seven times since arriving to KAF in July.
“Chief Florence is fortunate in the way of platelets,” said Leslie. “Her platelet count is regularly over 300.”
An average donor has a platelet count of 200-220.
Some donors can donate a double unit of platelets if their platelet count is higher than 300. Of the seven donations Florence has given, five of them have been double units of platelets. This benefits the apheresis team because it’s equivalent to two units of platelets in the time it takes one unit.
“For us, it’s twice the production in half the time,” said Leslie.
Florence also enjoys donating because she knows she won’t be able to soon.
“I donate here because I know I won’t be able to when I get back to the states,” Florence added.
Redeploying service members cannot donate blood if they have been in Afghanistan for a collective month or longer.
The apheresis team must collect five units of platelets daily to keep up with the region’s demand. The team is available by appointment or walk in from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day.
For more information or to set up an appointment, call DSN 318-421-6413.